|Pawlenty vetoed the bill Friday, less than 24 hours after it was passed by the Legislature. A vote to attempt to override the veto could come as early as Monday in both the House and Senate.
Minnesota unions back the $6.7 billion transportation package as a job-creating investment in Minnesota's economy. Funding would come primarily from adding five cents a gallon to the gas tax – the first increase in 20 years.
"We agree. We need to get money in transportation. We disagree with this approach," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung, who announced Pawlenty's veto to news media gathered outside the governor's office.
"Where's the governor?" journalists asked.
"The governor is preparing to travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Govenor's Association meeting," McClung replied. "I believe he's in Minnesota right now."
McClung displayed a veto stamp he said the governor used to veto the bill and distributed copies of Pawlenty's letter to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, outlining reasons for the veto.
"This bill is an overreaching, massive tax increase that will further burden Minnesotans during already difficult economic times," Pawlenty wrote. "I remain committed to keeping Minnesota out of the top 10 in national tax rankings."
Governor a no-show
The governor's absence from his own veto announcement, however, presented a stark contrast from a previous veto of a transportation bill, noted one news conference observer, Adam Duininck, political director for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.
Duininck recalled that a previous Pawlenty veto of a transportation bill was staged almost like a political rally, with Republican legislators standing beside the governor, along with Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau, who also is Commissioner of Transportation.
This time, Duininck said, the Republican legislators, plus Molnau and Pawlenty — all were missing.
The DFL majorities in the House and Senate will need Republican votes Monday to override the veto. "They did not pass this bill with a veto-proof majority," McClung told reporters.
Pawlenty, McClung said, "has asked Republican legislators to uphold his veto."
McClung said Pawlenty issued the veto to block tax increases and to stand with Minnesotans who are under economic strain.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller spoke with reporters after McClung's announcement of the Pawlenty veto.
"Since he's been governor he has not shown a genuine openness to putting together a comprehensive transportation package," Pogemiller said.
"He offered to do so within a day or two after the collapse of the 35W bridge," Pogemiller noted, but then, he added, Pawlenty backed away from following through not too long afterwards.
"It's time for this investment in our safety and our infrastructure and to promote economic growth," Pogemiller said.
Broad support for the legislation
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron and Secretary Treasurer Steve Hunter called on state legislators to override the veto.
"That bill earned the support of Minnesota's unions, the Chamber of Commerce, both houses of the Legislature, most Minnesota newspapers — and virtually every one who has to drive in the State of Minnesota," Waldron said.
The sorry condition of our roads, bridges and transit services "...has a negative impact on every worker and business in the state," Hunter said. "Investments in our transportation infrastructure would help our state's businesses — and create 33,000 jobs a year for the next five years. I'm counting on Minnesota legislators to do the right thing our state — and override the Governor's veto."
Evaluation of roads and bridges
At the same time that the news media and television cameras gathered outside the governor's office for the veto announcement, another event focusing on transportation was quietly underway in a State Capitol basement conference room.
A joint committee of the House and Senate was meeting to hear from Legislative Auditor James Nobles, who recently released an evaluation of the state's roads and bridges. The Legislature requested the report in the aftermath of the 35W bridge collapse. The report documented that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is seriously underfunded for the work necessary to maintain the state's transportation infrastructure.
"There is no disagreement about the need… and the need needs to be filled with more money," Nobles told legislators. "Our situation is dire. It's growing… The only debate is where to get the money."
Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council. Visit the CLUC website, www.minneapolisunions.org
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